A seismic shift here in the independent film sphere in the walk-up to Oscar Sunday: Longtime Searchlight Pictures Chairmen Nancy Utley (65) and Steve Gilula (70) have announced their retirement after a two decades-plus run with the classic label which Disney purchased from Fox.
Searchlight veterans Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum, the studio’s longtime heads of production, have both been promoted to President, Searchlight, and will jointly run the company. Greenbaum and Greenfield will report to Disney Studios Content Chairman Alan Bergman and Disney Studios Content Chief Creative Officer Alan Horn.
The news comes just before Oscar Sunday when Searchlight’s Nomadland starring Frances McDormand is expected to notch the Best Picture and Best Director win for filmmaker Chloe Zhao. Should Zhao win Best Director, she’ll be the second woman to do so at the Oscars and the first person of color. To date, Nomadland has won the PGA, DGA, Golden Globes for Best Picture Drama and director and counts six Oscar nominations. Searchlight has not reported grosses on the movie during its theatrical run in the pandemic; the pic is also available on Hulu.
During Utley and Gilula’s tenure, Searchlight has won Oscar’s Best Picture in four out of the last eight ceremonies: Slumdog Millionaire ($378M WW), 12 Years a Slave ($188M WW), Birdman ($103M), and The Shape of Water ($195M). The duo have jointly served as presidents of Searchlight since 2009; their first collaboration Boys Don’t Cry was released in 1999. The two were previously COOs, Utley overseeing marketing and Gilula leading distribution, before being named as Presidents in 2009, filling the vacancy left behind by previous Searchlight Boss Peter Rice. In 2018 Gilula and Utley were each made Chairman. Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum were made President of Production at Searchlight Pictures.
Utley and Gilula’s departure also come at a time when executive chairman Bob Iger is retiring, along with 33-year Disney human resources chief vet Jayne Parker.
“Thanks to the stewardship and pitch-perfect creative instincts of Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, Searchlight has cemented itself as one of the finest film studios in history, and we commend and thank them for their incredible leadership, especially throughout the integration of Searchlight at Disney,” said Bergman and Horn. “They are leaving the studio in the talented hands of Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum, who have been a critical part of Searchlight’s success over many years and we’re confident they will continue to set a course that keeps Searchlight on the industry’s leading edge.”
“Our time at Searchlight has been the kind of career highlight one can only dream of in this business,” said Utley and Gilula. “Over the past 21 years, we’ve had the privilege to build and lead an incredible team, and work with brilliant artists, to take creative risks, champion stories we’re passionate about, and, along the way, make iconic films that will stand the test of time. We’re so proud of how this studio has grown and evolved over the years, and we’re ready to pass the torch to carry on the Searchlight legacy.”
“First and foremost, we want to thank Nancy and Steve for their years of leading the most dynamic specialty film company in the world,” said Greenbaum and Greenfield. “While their track record speaks for itself, Steve and Nancy’s passion, intelligence, and vision are second to none. The fiercely loyal team they’ve built reflects the honesty, transparency, and integrity with which they have led, and to which we aspire moving forward. With the foundation laid by them and the continued support of Alan Bergman, Alan Horn, and everyone at Disney, Searchlight is primed for its next exciting chapter.”
Also today, it was announced that Rebecca Kearey will head Business Operations and International Marketing for Searchlight. Creative executives Katie Goodson-Thomas and DanTram Nguyen will continue in their film development and production roles. All three will report to Greenbaum and Greenfield alongside marketing heads Michelle Hooper and Larry Baldauf, acquisitions lead Chan Phung, and Searchlight Television leads Gina Kwon and Jennifer Gonsky. The extended Searchlight leadership team also includes head of business affairs Paul S. Hoffman, head of physical production Elizabeth Sayre, head of music Danielle Diego, finance lead Marnie Duda, casting lead Yesi Ramirez, and media and strategy lead Rob Wilkinson. Frank Rodriguez will continue to lead Searchlight Pictures distribution as part of DMED’s Platform Distribution division.
Since its launch in 1994 by Tom Rothman (Sony’s current Motion Pictures Entertainment Chairman), Searchlight’s movies have racked up over $5 billion WW, with 28 Golden Globe Awards, 49 BAFTA awards, and 40 Oscars including four Best Picture winners. Upcoming feature releases include Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s award-winning Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), David Bruckner’s The Night House, Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Scott Cooper’s Antlers, Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, and Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins.